The industrial units in Lahore that have been contributing to the growing smog problem have resumed operations under the nose of the Punjab Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Minute Mirror learnt on Monday.
With the help of other departments, EPA had to close down dozens of industrial units that were emitting toxic smoke through their chimneys, causing smog in the provincial capital and its surrounding areas. These industrial units, which included steel re-rolling mills, furnace mills, and tyre pyrolysis plants, were using substandard fuel. These plants are mostly located on the northern side of Lahore alongside the Ring Road and Sheikhupura Road.
These industrial units have now resumed work without taking a no-objection certificate (NOC) nor have they adopted any measures to lessen the intensity of toxic smoke they emit. After being inactive for one year, all the relevant departments came into action with the advent of smog in October 2021-prior to winter. Though curbing smog is among the key responsibilities of EPA but it has always remained reluctant in this regard for reasons best known to its officials.
The Punjab Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) set up a system in its office to keep an eye on the smog-causing factors. PDMA had already declared smog a calamity in 2020, but it never made any effort to curb the menace since this announcement. The Judicial Environment and Water Commission also became active and asked the departments concerned to submit their progress reports.
Among this race by different departments to show their performance, Commissioner Lahore Captain (retd) Muhammad Usman also stepped forward and started holding meetings on the issue. Lahore District administration constituted at least five anti-smog squads to monitor pollution in the city on the orders of Commissioner Lahore. An EPA Deputy Director was appointed as the focal person of the squads while EPA inspectors were made the team leaders.
These squads included officials from Metropolitan Corporation Lahore (MCL), Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA), police, district administration and Lahore Electric Supply Company (LESCO). EPA had identified over 300 industrial units contributing to smog. Every squad was assigned the task to visit 60 industrial units a week. The squads had the authority to seal any industrial unit for violating the environmental laws. Moreover, they were also directed to seal any unit on violation of building by-laws, misuse of water connection and other violations.
The Lahore High Court had also expressed its concern over the degrading environmental conditions of the province, particularly Lahore. An officer informed this correspondent that all the industrial units which were sealed during smog days had resumed work in connivance with EPA officials. “EPA has a list of all the industrial units operating in violation of rules and also had identified all the smog-causing units in Lahore,” he said while seeking anonymity and added that instead of issuing Environmental Protection Orders (EPOs) to such units, they had resumed their work without any fear.
“This is the common practice that no industry can even think to operate in violation of law unless there is the involvement of EPA officials,” he added. Talking to Minute Mirror, EPA Deputy Director Ali Ijaz confirmed that a large number of industrial units had resumed operations. “EPA was fully vigilant against such illegal industrial working in the city while we are taking action against them,” he said and responded to a query that an action under section 11 of PEPA Act should be taken against all the industrial units working in violation of rules. He informed that dozens of cases are pending in the environmental tribunal and other courts yet to be decided.